So I guess losing one's legs is now considered an advantage -- at least in the world of track and field. The world's governing body for the sport says Oscar Pistorius, a double-amputee from South Africa, uses technology that is unfair to other Olympians who will compete in the 2008 Games. Therefore, he won't be eligible. The International Association of Athletics Federation says Pistorius's carbon fiber prosthetics "give him an advantage over athletes not using them." Instead, these other able-bodied runners are stuck with their own muscular legs.
Yes, it is easy to attack the IAAF on this issue as the big bully picking on the poor, challenged kid. And, yes, there may be a time when technology prevents paralympians from competing -- but now does not seem the time. Based upon the IAAF's study, Pistorius's prosthetics are more efficient than a human ankle, allowing him to run with about 25 percent less expenditure than able-bodied sprinters. For all the advantages Pistorius's prosthetic legs give him, though, he still has not matched the qualifying time for the 400 meters, which is 45.55 seconds. This ruling is sad news for all people faced with the challenge of fitting in after accidents or after birth defects. Seeing Pistorius sprinting down the track in Beijing could have inspired a whole generation to start viewing physically-handicapped people as more than victims. Here's hoping the IAAF changes its mind.
[The New York Times put together a great multimedia package to illustrate how these prosthetic legs work during a sprint.]